This blog is about the story of my family here in America. We arrived in the 1630s as Puritans, and became the common folk of the New World.

Cowboys, and the use of the word boy, in America

The word "boy" in 20th-century America underwent a dramatic change. It had been used, in a generally-accepted way, to describe male children and also grown men of a subservient status. By the middle of the century, the word "boy" was becoming offensive. Even using it for male children became uncomfortable for most people, and it was replaced with "young man". I can still hear it, being proud to be called a "young man"!

When I was a kid, in the sixties, even though you could find "BOYS" written on the door to the bathroom in my school, the word boy was never, ever, used. In combination with certain things, like "cowboy", or "boyfriend" it was, and is, still acceptable. There have been some attempts to replace the term "boyfriend" with other terms, but most have failed. And no one thinks twice about the term "cowboy". But cowboys in the old west were not little children. They were men in their teens at least, and could remain cowboys as long as their bodies could stand the strain. It was a lowly position and these men expected to be called "boys". Movies and books have glamorized the term "cowboy", but that wasn't what it originally was. It was like being in any job where you are addressed as, "You, boy!" Not very nice.

As late as the 1930s, baggage handlers and porters in hotels were addressed as "boy", white or black. An affectionate term for a male child up to that time might have been "my boy", which is spoken as if one word, like the Spanish word "mijo". You can hear the term boy in old song lyrics, such as "that handsome boy over there, the one with the wavy hair", but ultimately songs after that replaced it with "baby". When the English singer Estelle boldly used the term boy in the song "American Boy" in 2008, she was doing a smile-and-a-wink to the days when a girl could call a boy a boy, and just mean "young man".
Post a Comment